Gainesville Business, Residents React To Closing Of All Dine-In Options In Florida

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Some Gainesville food and beverage spots are getting creative with their sales in the wake of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to close all restaurants and other food and beverage establishments statewide because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The governor’s order decreed Friday allows the restaurants and establishments to offer to-go and delivery options, and they can sell canned or bottled alcohol for the time being.

Many dining and beverage spot owners said they were just as worried about the impact on the community as they were their own short- and long-term business viability.

J.D. Chester, one of the owners of Midtown Pizza, organized a car wash service last week for the 200 or more bartenders who lost their jobs at his establishment. Each car wash cost $10 daily.

“There’s no profit out of it,” Chester said. “It’s all for the bartenders washing cars, and also there’s a portion of it going to a fund that we will give to any bartenders that are not washing cars, but that might fall into a bad time and not be able to pay bills or have food.”

The pizza joint was also offering free pizza, tissue paper and surface disinfectants to bartenders, servers, healthcare professionals and — because of area school closings — children under age 14.

“We’re just trying to make sure everybody is fed and has what they need,” Chester said.

The awesome community support has been mirrored at First Magnitude Brewery, said Simon McClung, the company’s chief brand ambassador.

“They’re concerned for these great local businesses, bars, breweries, restaurants, and they’re doing everything they can to come out and support,” McClung said.

The brewery’s employees found a new way to sell beverages after its taproom closed on March 16. Now a drive-thru service offers all cans, bottles and growler fills available for pre-order on the company’s website or Facebook page.

One of the bartenders, Katherine Fernandez, 28, was a dental assistant for five years before studying journalism and working toward an associate degree at Santa Fe College. At first, she worried she’d lose her job because of COVID-19. That hasn’t been the case so far.

First Magnitude Brewing Company employee Katherine Fernandez, 28, wears gloves while speaking with customers and swiping their cards. Before returning them, she sprays the cards with a disinfectant. (Emily Felts/WUFT News)

“Every single one of us is still employed, and we’re still being scheduled, which is awesome,” Fernandez said.

Doug Marcinek, 48, and Rachel Marcinek, 45, have been operating their Mayflower Cellars food truck outside First Magnitude.

“It’s helping us have someplace to serve our food, because with everything going on, all of our normal venues and events we would be doing are understandably shut down,” Doug Marcinek said.

The Marcineks were considering creating ready-made meals to go as a way to maintain sales.

“For instance, our signature brisket burger, we could make packages of four patties that people can take home and cook themselves,” Doug Marcinek said.

McClung said the brewery would continue to have its drive-thru option, keep all of its employees on staff and schedule partnered food trucks until government officials ask it to stop.

“This is a new experience for us, and obviously it’s scary,” he said, “but we want to make sure that when people are getting their favorite craft beer, they can also have a smile.”

Other local restaurants that switched to take out and delivery-only platforms include: Flaco’s, La Cocina De Abuela’s, Momoyaki, Linda Vista, I Love NY Pizza, Amelia’s, Brownie Guy, Sweet Buns Japanese Bakery, 4 Rivers Smokehouse and Embers Wood Grill.

Other restaurants are offering deals. Blue Agave has free deliveries. The Creek discounted chef specials. Red Rice Kitchen offered a free beverage with any pick-up order. Grub Hub Burger Bar has “quarantine kits” and Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que discounted family dinner packs.

Avery Kiefer, 22, is a University of Florida graduate student aiming to earn a master’s degree in education in May. She had worked nine months at the Chuy’s restaurant at Butler Plaza before having to return home to Ocala, file for unemployment and cancel her post-graduation plans to visit Europe.

“I was just really surprised, because I felt like it all happened so fast,” Kiefer said.

Drew Love, 44, who has worked in the serving industry for the past 20 years, created a virtual tip jar for servers and bartenders around the city. After seeing it done in other cities, Love posted the idea on his Facebook page and a web designer created a companion website.

Love said the virtual tip jar aimed to offer an affected server’s first and last names, place of employment and position, and mobile payment service account number. The server could also opt for a photo, in case a regular customer does not know or remember his or her full name.

After initially panicking because of how the coronavirus had affected his livelihood, Love said he felt relieved to be relying on his savings instead of upping his risk to exposure while serving food and beverages. His wife, Jacqueline Hyams, takes migraine medicine that compromises her immune system.

Imagining a worse-case scenario, Love said, “I could harbor it and bring it home – and suddenly she’s leaving to go to the emergency room because of something that I picked up at work.”

About Emily Felts

Emily is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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